We snobs rail against the unwashed sports fans.
“Hi, Dan, this is Godzilla Guy from Burnsville. First-time caller. Love your show. I’m so bummed. I think the Vikings should fire … “
We highfalutin sports analysts scoff at such commitment to the irrelevance of a traded shortstop, the selection of a third-round draft choice or the severity of some zillionaire player’s knee injury.
But what is fandom — or sports-talk radio or the Monday morning water cooler — but a de facto social network? What is a “fan club” but a web of affinity, a jockcentric tribe that’s loyal to a uniform, to a franchise that these fanatics live and die for as if they owned it.
As if they owned it.
Earlier this month, a genuine 21st-century broadband social network bought a team. It’s called MyFootballClub.com. It takes the “Green Bay Packer model” to a whole new level.
Fans to coach: You’re fired
In England, 20,000 fans with their PayPal accounts and credit cards, have purchased a team — a minor league one, at that, Ebbsfleet United in Kent, an hour’s train ride southeast of London.
Instead of venting to a radio show, the fans/owners can fire and hire and determine which free agents to sign. The ownership paradigm of professional sports is suddenly streaming in new directions.
For years, some Minnesotans, mostly led by activist, lobbyist and baseball fan Julian Loscalzo, pushed for “community ownership” of the Twins. Their argument: If citizen/taxpayers are going to be asked to finance or fund stadiums — which are depreciating assets — then these same same taxpayers should get a piece of the franchise, which — as former Vikings’ owner Red McCombs can attest — is a wildly appreciating asset.
The legislation that approved a Twins ballpark includes a clause that says, if and when the Twins are put on the selling block by the Pohlad family, then a mechanism may be triggered that would allow for the selling of stock certificates to the public to keep the franchise in Minnesota.
But never did even Loscalzo — a sports Commie to the hilt — ever assert that the operating decisions of a team should be handed over to the chest-painted, beer-barfing consumer.
This is different
Will Brooks, 37, is the mastermind behind MyFootballClub and its recent agreement to purchase Ebbsfleet United for, so far, an undisclosed amount.
Ebbsfleet United is in England’s Fifth Division, a minor league not unlike the St. Paul Saints baseball team. Total player payroll is 400,000 pounds, or $825,000.
“Some make 80 pounds a week,” Brooks told me in a phone chat from his London home. “Some are still living with their parents. It’s a nice level for people to get involved.”
If you want to get involved, go back to MyFootballClub’s site, log in, ship off your one year’s dues of 35 pounds, or $72, and — voila — you own the chance to make major decisions.
MyFootballClub’s site will serve as a soapbox for owner/members to “advise” each other on those decisions, Brooks said. Sports, blogging, social networking, online retail. It’s the perfect Web storm.
Upside clause exists
Short of “ownership,” the public’s deal with the Twins, includes a very thoughtful clause. In the use agreement [PDF] between the team and the new Ballpark Authority is this: During the first 10 years at the new stadium, set to open in 2010, if and when the Pohlad family sells the team, the Authority will get as much as 18 percent of the sale price. If, in year one, for instance, the team sells for $500 million, the Authority — the public — would get $90 million to help pay down the stadium’s debt.
It’s not ownership, but it is a windfall profits tax on the Pohlads, and the public gets a piece of the upside of the pie. Economically speaking, to me that’s more progressive than the Packers’ structure, in which citizen stockholders get no return on their initial investment.
Spiritually, Green Bay is the 20th-century version of MyFootballClub. There are more than 112,000 “fans” who own a certificate that says they own a piece of the Packers. But that legion gets no vote on transactions, hirings, firings, uniform changes, whatever.
That sets the MyFootballClub apart and leads to this fundamental question: “Are fans smart enough to run a sports team?”
“Fans already do run teams, don’t they?” Will Brooks countered.
“How so?” I asked.
“The boards of most football clubs are football fans,” he said of filthy-rich owners. “And quite often the boards haven’t been very smart. We’ll be different.”
Who’s a bigger fan than Vikings owner Zygi Wilf? He should have been drug-tested after roaming the sidelines last Sunday at Giants Stadium. But Zygi and his pals own the team. They decide.
The rest of us — talk-radio-phoning yahoos and effete snobs alike — we can only watch, cheer and boo. Unless we buy a piece of Ebbsfleet.